From the moment Eric Lindros skated onto the ice at the Colisée in Quebec on Oct. 13, for his first appearance as a Philadelphia Flyer in the city that he once spurned, the air was thick with flying objects. Among other things, the fans threw drinks, eggs, baby bottles, bullets, batteries, loose change and a roll of pennies. "There must have been $450 on the ice," said Lindros, who had earned the enmity of the Quebecois by sitting out last season rather than play for the Nordiques, who had made him the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft.
The Nordiques and the sensationalist French-language media in Quebec have gone to great lengths to paint Lindros, the most-heralded young hockey player in years, as a grasping whiner and hater of French-Canadian culture who's manipulated by his mother, Bonnie. It has been an effective campaign. When Lindros came to Quebec last September as a member of Team Canada, fans verbally abused his parents, who were sitting in a private box. Last week his parents stayed home, and the Flyers brought along a special security man to usher Lindros around. The Flyers also received assurances from the Nordiques that the crowd would be kept on a short leash. "Nobody wants to go to jail because of Eric Lindros," said Pierre Pagé, the Quebec coach and general manager. "Our fans are normal people."
Mais bien sûr. It's perfectly normal for adults to wear diapers over their pants to a hockey game. Some even came shirtless, wearing bonnets and waving rattles. The presumed intent of this infantile display was to show that Lindros was a baby. A Quebec radio station even distributed pacifiers outside the Colisée to fans, who obligingly hurled them onto the ice. Play was stopped countless times to shovel away the pacifiers and other debris. "If I ever have kids, they'll have pacifiers to suck on for life," Lindros said after the game. NHL president Gil Stein, who was in attendance, was hit by a pacifier, and he was seated behind the Quebec bench. "It wasn't even my size," Stein complained.
As a result of these goings-on, one fan was injured when she was struck in the face by a golf ball, and nobody was ejected from the building. The public-address announcer even neglected to tell the crowd to cease and desist.
Arena security people made a token effort to confiscate the most obscene of the many homemade signs that appeared in the stands. A lewdly decorated fleur-delis survived, though, as did a mock gravestone bearing Lindros's name and date of death: MAYBE TONIGHT. A few of the more blatant examples of bad taste: BONNIE THE COW, LISTEN TO MOMMY WHEN SHE TALKS, TWO CULTURES WOULD'VE BEEN TOO MANY FOR YOU, and the stunningly clever——YOU, LINDROS, a phrase that was taken up by the crowd as the official chant for the evening. The organist and the house trumpeter played along with the fans. "I'm disgusted," said Flyer defenseman Garry Galley. "They should be embarrassed."
At first Lindros, a center, was a little taken aback. Then he got mad. Then he got even, swatting in a perfect pass from Rod Brin-d'Amour to tie the game, at 2-2, 1:10 into the third period. Less than seven minutes later he tied it again, 3-3, on a breakaway, picking up the puck at the red line and barreling in to fire a shot that whizzed past goalie Ron Hextall's left shoulder. But Quebec center Mike Ricci, who like Hextall came to the Nordiques as part of the deal that sent Lindros to Philadelphia, scored his second goal of the game with four minutes left to break the tie, and Quebec went on to win the game 6-3.
Despite the outcome, Lindros and the Flyers left Quebec with a small measure of satisfaction, a large sense of relief and a giant premonition of things to come. With any luck Lindros could have had four goals against the Nordiques; one apparent goal was disallowed after referee Bill McCreary ruled that the puck had deflected into the net off Lindros's glove, while another Lindros shot glanced off the post.
The next day, while wading through two bins of fan mail in a back office at the Flyers' training complex in Voorhees, N.J., Lindros kept having flashbacks of the game in Quebec. "Did you see that one sign? The one that said, 'Son of a bitch. Bitch equals Bonnie,' " he said, laughing bitterly. "Grow up! Get a life! What's wrong with these people? You have to wonder what motivates people to do this kind of thing."
Sixteen months have passed since the Nordiques drafted Lindros, yet as the events of last week indicated, he remains a cause célèbre in la vieille capitale, a flash point of conflict between Canada's two identities at a critical time in the nation's history. On Oct. 26, Canadian voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to approve a new constitution that would give the province of Quebec greater sovereignty. If the referendum fails, Canada's only predominantly French-speaking province conceivably could secede.
Lindros, who grew up in Toronto, doesn't speak French and had absolutely no interest in playing in what could soon become the capital of a foreign land. He made sure the Nordiques knew that well before the draft, but Quebec took him anyway. The sniping began. It didn't end until draft day last June when Nordique owner Marcel Aubut, cagily maneuvering for the best offer, traded Lindros twice—first to Philadelphia and then to the New York Rangers. Ten days later an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Flyers, who gave up six players, $15 million and two draft choices to obtain the rights to Lindros, and then signed him to a six-year contract worth $21 million.